So the city of Montreal, or at least its citizens who depend on stirring the public pot for a living, are all in a lather about whether the next coach of the Canadiens will be French or English. Poor Guy Carbonneau isn't cold in his grave of public exile and already there's a manufactured controversy about what francophone could step into his wingtips behind the bench, and the tragedy of management potentially asking an anglophone to coach the team instead.
What a giant, ridiculous crock of crap. For years now, we've seen the team stagnate in the coaching department because of its insistence on hiring a francophone in the top job. As a result, the Habs have had a series of inexperienced rookie coaches who inevitably make many mistakes at the NHL level, last a couple of seasons and get turfed. Their problem wasn't that they were necessarily bad, (although the palpable relief in Pittsburgh at "Mike" Therrien's firing makes me wonder) but that they were learning on the job. And the Canadiens keep providing a training ground for baby coaches largely because of language.
I have no problem with giving some weight to language when hiring a coach in Montreal. After all, the city is bilingual and it's to the coach's benefit to speak both languages for facility in dealing with the ever-present media and for social appearances. But a coach's mother-tongue should be a consideration, not a requirement. Make no mistake, the language in the dressing room isn't French. These days it could just as easily be Czech or Russian as English or French. As long as the coach can communicate effectively with all the players, regardless of language, that should be all that matters.
I often quote Ken Dryden's book, "The Game," to make a point because even thirty years after Dryden made the notes for that book, it's full of truths that apply to the team today. One thing he wrote with quite a spark of prescience is that the Habs teams after the seventies dynasty would have to make a choice. They could either be competitive or they could have a French identity. He could see that economics, the draft, expansion and the coming influx of European players would inevitably change the game and the way teams are built. Dryden wrote that in regard to players. But I think it's equally applicable to coaches.
In a quick read of various Canadiens' message boards and fan sites, it seems the vast majority of people who actually root for the team and pay to go see games want to see the best possible coach hired for next year. They want a strong, experienced man who can manage the team well and contribute to on-ice success. If he happens to speak French, that's great. If not, who cares? The main thing is the team and bringing the right person in, with the right consideration paid to his coaching talent before anything else.
Unfortunately, those who cover the Canadiens think the fans of the team for whom they collect the quotes and video want to know about the language issue. So they spent a good chunk of time today grilling Don Lever about whether he'd like to be the next coach, and if he plans to learn French. I think Lever did a great job in Hamilton and the players he's graduated to the NHL seem to have a great deal of respect for him. Whether that will translate to his becoming the best candidate to coach the Canadiens remains to be seen. But if he is the right man, I would hate to see him elimated from contention for the job because his mother tongue isn't the right one.
The fact...sad as it is to many...is, Dryden was right. The team had to make a choice, to either be successful or be French. The prominence of players like Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Komisarek and Carey Price indicates which choice the team has made. Fans, no matter what language they speak, want the team to win. And that means hiring the right coach, no matter what language he speaks.